Keep your travel tech simple

travel tech

in order to be a more responsible travel blogger

Picture me, sitting in rural Kenya in a cyber café. I walked here for half an hour. For days, I took notes in my notebook on what to write about in my next blog post. It’s a bit of a struggle to form the notes into an appealing post, considering the noise from the people at the busy market. But I manage to focus and mold an interesting story.

As I hover over the publish button with the cursor, the screen goes blank. Blackout!

My meditation skills were greatly tested several times. In 2009 I depended on the cyber cafés to keep friends and family updated. It’s still one of the easiest and cheapest ways.

Internet

You can check nomadlist.com for a quick overview of the coverage in big cities worldwide. When I stayed in Nairobi, we got Wi-Fi installed. Easy. But if you are travelling to rural areas, free internet access is not always guaranteed.

There are also more and more libraries, cafés, co-working spaces and hubs coming up where you can access internet.

And if you carry your laptop, you can either purchase a modem before you start the trip, or you buy it locally, once you have arrived.

Sometimes, data volumes and network cover can be shaky. I had to have my laptop run for one night straight in order to upload videos.

Phone

Once you know which format suits you, you’ll find that it can probably be filled on a smart phone. It usually makes much sense to buy a line from a local provider, which is the cheapest option in most cases. You can ask local friends about that. You can buy internet data in “bundles” like airtime, or subscribe for a regular monthly fee.

If you are in a more rural place, remember that you may not be able to charge your phone whenever you want. We don’t have electricity in our house on the Kenyan countryside. I usually take my phone to the next shop that is connected to power and pay a small fee every time I have it charged.

How to simplify your tech equipment

  1. Multifunctionality

I am a very old-school person with a very old phone that’s not smart but robust. I also have an MP3 player and two different cameras. Don’t be like me! Carry your smartphone. I’m sure it can offer all these functions in one.

  1. Combine

Get one single adapter that helps you get electricity in any country. Use headphones with an inbuilt microphone. USB chargers and cables can be combined as well.

  1. Avoid

Sometimes you may need batteries. You don’t have to carry them though. They can be bought locally.

  1. Minimise

Do you have to carry your entire external hard drive or will a flash disc do the job for the short trip? One SD card with massive storage replaces many smaller ones. You don’t need to carry the cable to connect your device with a computer or laptop. Bluetooth and card readers are your friends here.

  1. Don’t forget

To avoid losses, install antivirus programmes before you start travelling.

What are your tips for travel tech? How do you keep your loved ones updated? Let me know in the comments below!

 

How to take photos in Africa

travel photos africa

A guide to responsible travel photography

Preparation

Type the name of your destination in a search engine and look at the pictures. Question those travel photos! Can you find others beyond exotic wildlife and romanticised poverty? How do photographers from your country of destination portray their country?
Use this free worksheet to go deeper.

responsible travel photography
I searched for Kenya in Google pictures and this is what I got:

travel photos kenya

 

Yet some Kenyan photographers give a very different perspective (click on the photos to get to their awesome websites!):

responsible travel photography kenya
(c) Cedi Mungai

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mutua Matheka

 

responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Mwangi Kirubi
responsible ravel photography kenya
(c) Victor Peace

The reason for taking pictures

If there are millions of photos of giraffes in sunsets already – why do you take them again? What do you want to proof with your photos? Why do you hunt “perfect moments” like trophies? We often unknowingly reproduce the photos – and the stereotypes coming with them – which we have already seen many times before.

Landscape

There is more to Africa than the savannah. There are urban areas and skyscrapers, lush green suburbs, highways, semi-urban centres and malls. Do you only take pictures of rural areas, because they are so exotic, so different from what you know? If you leave out the urban areas and all the zones in between, you will portray an unbalanced picture.

People

Always ask for permission. Always. And don’t take that permission for granted. Some people will agree because you took them by surprise and they don’t want to appear impolite. That is not a free ticket to publication.

Take respectful photos of people. Avoid a higher angle forcing them to look up because that makes them look small. When taking photos together with them, how are you positioned? In the middle of decorative black children? Standing, while other people are sitting down? Don’t make objects out of the others.

Editing

When digitally editing your photos, consider what you exclude for aesthetic reasons and why. Why do you chose this frame, and what are you leaving out? A slight change in contrast can make a flat landscape look hostile or sharp, and other adjustments can lighten or darken peoples’ skin colours. The border between ethical enhancement and manipulation is extremely blurred, so be careful.

Sharing and Publication

Again, you need permission from the people in your photos for publication. It is not easy, but here on this website we ask the parents of the children before we publish the photos. Social media is a form of publication, too. What would you think if you one day found a photo of you online portraying you as poor or exotic?

If you take photos with or of people, they also have a right to have a copy of them. Make sure to develop them and give them out before you leave, or share them online.

Captions

Name everyone in the photo or nobody. “Me and some kids” is a caption that makes the white person the hero, the main subject, and the children become mere props. What about “First-graders of Garden School on their last day before the holidays”?

Also, try to avoid stressing stereotypes in the captions or downgrade people or situations.

Safety

Big cameras and equipment as well as expensive phones may present attractive opportunities to thieves. If you neither want to lose your expensive equipment, nor feel like being constantly on the run from possible pick-pocketers, just leave your equipment in the hotel or the house and enjoy the walk through the city. It will be much more stress-free.

Ask your friend or guide whether it is okay to take the camera along and also whether you may take photos in certain areas or situations.

Law

In Nairobi, like in other places, it is forbidden to take photos of some government buildings. If you want to avoid trouble with the authorities, respect these rules.

Not taking photos is also an option!

In the beginning you might be uncomfortable and over-aware or over-sensitive about many things, including taking photos. That is a good thing! You don’t have to get rid of this sensitivity. Your intuitive shyness about taking photos is a sign that you are aware of the complex process behind taking photos. Not taking photos is just as well an expression of a responsible attitude.

What are your best tips for taking photos responsibly? Share them in the comments below!

 

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

Here are some hints on transport, logistics, phone and internet (not only in Kenya) you should consider when travelling.

Transport

Once you know where you want to travel, you may wonder how to do so. Most likely you’ll be flying, but how do you continue afterwards? Guidebooks can be a good option to check different possibilities for different routes within one country and how to get from one country to the next. The guidebook for Kenya by Lonely Planet, for instance, often describes the exact routes of public transport or which line to use to get to a specific sight.

Much better, though, are people who are or have recently been there, and those who live there.

Often it is sufficient to make bookings one day prior to your tour or day trip, if at all.

Try to settle first, for a day or two, in the town where you land. Then you can get helpful information on how to continue. Hotels, organisations and hosts often have contacts and can help you organise the continuation of your journey.

In Kenya, a common means of transport are matatus, small vans with 10 to 30 seats. Depending on their route and whether they operate within Nairobi or carry passengers from town to town, they are pimped and tuned, play the latest Kenyan or Nigerian music very loudly and they may or may not carry excess passengers.

The German embassy warns of using these vehicles for transportation, but for me there is no other way, since I don’t own a car. Here the best advice is to stick to what your hosts or friends say who use these vehicles daily. There are certain times or places that you shouldn’t use them. You shouldn’t expose your phone close to the window or door. And it is advisable to carry the exact amount of money for the fare with you.

At the Kenyan coast and also in some places in Tanzania there are routine methods for indicating that you want to alight. You may knock on the inner roof of the van or answer in a certain way, when the conductor announces your stage. You will learn these with time.

Transport in the global South is often stereotyped as being chaotic and if you have these expectations, they will fulfil themselves. Try to be open, flexible and not judge or compare everything with your home country. Be careful with describing everything as extreme if it appears to you like that. A ride on a matatu won’t make you a hero. People use it every day because they must.

General logistics and infrastructure

  • People who stay longer can consider to open a P.O. Box.
  • You may not be able to get free Wi-Fi everywhere. Instead, cyber cafes or co-working spaces and hubs are becoming more popular in certain areas in the global South.
  • Find out about the requirements for driving. Left or right? What type of driving licence is accepted? How can you get one?

Contacts

We have made the experience that people sometimes don’t read their emails as regularly as we expected – if at all. Mobile phone numbers are expensive to call, but often a good way to confirm things from abroad.

Not every organisation has an address that may make sense to you. Not all houses have numbers, not all streets have names and not all places have streets. Often, there is the postal address with the code for the P.O. Box, and then there is a description of where the office is.

You may need all these information upon arrival for visa application and general information at the entrance.

Officers want to make sure that you have someone who is responsible for you, or at least that you know where you are going. Carry these contacts with your other travelling documents.

Phone / Internet

You may have seen the stereotypical photo of a Maasai using a mobile phone. In Kenya, almost everyone has a mobile phone, because landlines never really made it.

The idea – and the practical execution of it – to send money through the phone came from Kenya.

You don’t need to come with an extra, “Africa compatible”, robust, old Nokia phone. People also use smartphones there and may ridicule you for thinking that “modern” phones are not suitable.

In most cases, the easiest option is to get a national sim-card. You can easily buy credit for calls and bundles for internet. Ask other travellers how they communicated with the people at home and which one is the cheapest or best connection. Maybe Skype or other services are better.

As I said before: The Wi-Fi coverage may not be as broad as you are used to. But with bundles on your phone, in more urban places and in hubs, cafes and hot spots with many expats you will find connection.

What are your tips and experiences with logistics, phone and internet while travelling? Share them in the comments below.

Choose the format for your travel blog

How and why to blog about your travel through email, on blogs, social media or WhatsApp

My first travel blogs fulfilled the sole purpose of keeping my family and friends updated. I just wrote, added some pictures and then published without editing. The posts were long, because I wrote twice a month and a lot had happened within two weeks. The response was scarce, but friends and acquaintances generally were interested in my journey and I was sure they were reading.

If you are thinking of opening a travel blog, these are the first two questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Why are you writing?
  2. Who is your audience?

These questions go hand in hand. If you are writing to keep your family and friends updated, they are your audience. But don’t underestimate the bragging power of parents: My dad started sending the links of the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly became a bunch of people I didn’t even know.

Ask yourself why, how and when they are reading or following you. Are they going to read long texts? Or are short videos better (Periscope)? What about daily quick thoughts and photos (Twitter / Instagram)?

Maybe you are a professional travel blogger, or want to become one. Or you want to journal for your own benefit.

Whatever your reason to publish and whoever your audience is – they determine your platform and format for travel blogging.

Here are some options. You can combine them, and there are more. But this should give you a quick overview.

Blog

Publish on a blog for friends and family with the possibility of expanding the readership. Blogs are also great if you want to reach a bigger audience, publish journalistically, inspire others whom you don’t know personally or even want to raise money or make some political, social or cultural phenomena public.

If you want to journal just for yourself, lock it with a password, so that you are the only one who has access.

Video

I kept getting similar questions about how I was doing in Kenya. But I personally find emails to many people not very personal and sometimes even boring. So I record a video every month, upload it and send the link and password to a growing number of people.

I don’t have special equipment. Neither do I have a script. I just start talking in front of the camera, insert some photos or scenes I recorded previously and sometimes add some music. I always keep them around six to maximum ten minutes.

Watching a video is less effort to many people than reading a long email. And I feel more authentic towards the people who are genuinely interested in what I am up to.

There are plenty of options for platforms, tech equipment, professionality and formats. Some audiences may be satisfied with only seeing you talking. However, travel vloggers often have great cameras and microphones and their videos are full of action.

Shooting the video is only one quarter of the work. Vloggers usually have thought about a story before, and edited it later. And then there are data volume requirements and not everybody has internet everywhere.

If you want to do videos, you can also just record short clips, a bit like taking moving photos, and upload them on Periscope, in your WhatsApp or Facebook group or on Instagram.

Email

Emails will definitely be found in someone’s inbox. There is no escape and people can’t miss it. And you know exactly whom you are sending it to.

Consider your audience here: Hardly anybody, apart from your biggest fans, take their precious time to sit down and read 3 000 words of continuous text about their friend or niece, who is currently travelling through a country they can hardly imagine.

If you want feedback, a WhatsApp or Facebook group is more attractive than email, simply because people can quickly like something or leave a short comment with one single click. Also, your messages might be shorter, more regular and not these big bites that nobody in the boring non-traveller’s daily life has time for and enthusiasm to read.

WhatsApp

On WhatsApp or other messenger services you have more control over who gets to read what you are writing, and you will more likely get feedback, because it’s easier and quicker to answer.

Social Media

Social media is usually more public. You can change the settings for who will be able to read and share though, or open a separate, closed group.

Photos, videos and voice messages will be easier to handle on social media, like Periscope, or a messenger service like WhatsApp.

Podcast

Voice messages or podcasts are only suitable for people who know you personally, because they can imagine your face with the voice. Describing a different culture in a ramble for a podcast is a real challenge, and I would like to dare you here to be the next best travel-caster! However, most of it works better visually or when you have written it well.

If you are thinking of establishing a professional blog or brand, or you have already started out: There is a great blogpost by Regina of byregina.com  where you can find out whether blogging, Youtube, Periscope and other platforms are right for you.

Some general hints

  • Short is always good, especially online. People don’t have time anymore – unfortunately. Unless you are a predestined travel writer, keep your posts around 800 words, your videos under ten minutes and sort your photos before publicly uploading them all.
  • Regular works better than long. If you can write once a week or three times a month, do it. This automatically helps keeping things short. It also “teaches” your audience when to check for news about you. You can announce new posts via email or social media. Or blog on a specific day so that people know, every Tuesday or every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month they can check back in with you.
  • Different platforms give you different ways of control. Do you want control over who is reading or is it okay if it spreads? (Consider password protection, groups with invitation vs. Facebook pages, for example.)
  • Maybe you are already familiar with one or several of these outlets – and you don’t have much time to start learning how to use a new one. Then the best is to go with what you are comfortable with. Register a blog, open a group or set up a profile. If you need to practice, start talking about your preparation, announce your flight, or answer questions you are already getting about your trip.

Do you have any favourites of formats for travel blogging? What did we forget? Let us know in the comments below.